A group of the Detroit Zoo’s penguins stands inside their habitat at the $32 million Polk Penguin Conservation Center.

A group of the Detroit Zoo’s penguins stands inside their habitat at the $32 million Polk Penguin Conservation Center.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoo


Zoo announces 9-month closure of penguin center for repairs

Groundwater is seeping into building due to faulty waterproofing

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published June 25, 2019

 A gentoo penguin swims underwater at the Detroit Zoo’s Polk Penguin Conservation Center. The building will close for repairs for nine months  beginning Sept. 9, and the penguins will temporarily relocate to the Penguinarium, away from public view.

A gentoo penguin swims underwater at the Detroit Zoo’s Polk Penguin Conservation Center. The building will close for repairs for nine months beginning Sept. 9, and the penguins will temporarily relocate to the Penguinarium, away from public view.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoo

 A rendering shows the exterior of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo. After arbitration, the joint venture general  contractor will repair the faulty waterproofing  at their expense under the supervision  of a team of engineers selected by the zoo.

A rendering shows the exterior of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo. After arbitration, the joint venture general contractor will repair the faulty waterproofing at their expense under the supervision of a team of engineers selected by the zoo.

Photo provided by the Detroit Zoo

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ROYAL OAK — Detroit Zoological Society officials are urging the public to get their penguin fix before the Polk Penguin Conservation Center temporarily closes Sept. 9 through mid-June 2020 for repairs “due to faulty waterproofing by the construction contractor.”

Detroit Zoo Chief Operating Officer Gerry VanAcker said the building was designed correctly, but was not constructed correctly, and approximately 9 gallons of groundwater seep into the building and are pumped out daily.

“Unfortunately, the contractor failed to properly waterproof the foundation, was aware that groundwater was seeping into the building throughout construction, didn’t fix the problem and failed to inform us,” said Ron Kagan, Detroit Zoological Society executive director and CEO. “What we initially observed as a leaky basement was more serious. We only learned of the faulty waterproofing through an independent investigation by a team of engineers and through the legal process.”

VanAcker said the zoo noticed leaks in places there should not have been leaks, including in the back of the house where safety equipment was located, and in the front of the house by the pool.

He said the leaks began in the fall of 2016, approximately six months after the building, which is situated below ground level, opened in April 2016.

The DZS filed a legal action against joint venture general contractor DeMaria/Wharton-Smith for faulty waterproofing and concealing the problems, and the matter was settled outside of court through arbitration, according to a zoo press release.

DeMaria/Wharton-Smith, as a result of arbitration, will be required to make the necessary repairs at their expense under the supervision of a team of engineers selected by the Detroit Zoological Society, according to the press release.

VanAcker declined to comment on the cost of arbitration through mediation.

He said DeMaria/Wharton-Smith hired a subcontractor to do the work in question, knew of the faulty waterproofing and concealed it.

While the zoo has worked with the general contractor in the past, VanAcker said this is the first time that there had been a problem. He said the repairs would be completed by a different subcontractor to be hired by DeMaria/Wharton-Smith.

During repairs, the zoo’s more than 75 penguins will relocate to their former home — the Penguinarium — located a couple of hundred feet away; however, due to a lack of space, the building will not be open to the public.

“We’ve always kept the other building healthy and ready to accept penguins, which has already turned out to be a prudent precaution,” VanAcker said. “We’ll move the penguins over there, where they’ll get the same great care.”

He said the penguins will be transported quickly, since the move will take place during the warmer part of the year, and their habitat is kept at approximately 42 degrees.

“We know this temporary closure will disappoint our guests, and this wouldn’t have been necessary had the facility been built to the architect’s specifications,” Kagan said in a prepared statement. “The safety of the building, animals, staff, volunteers and visitors was never in question — regardless, repairs are needed to properly waterproof the foundation.”

A statement from DeMaria/Wharton-Smith reads, “DeMaria is proud of the quality work we have completed for the Detroit Zoological Society over the past two decades.

“The joint venture of DeMaria/Wharton-Smith has received numerous accolades from industry trade media on the work performed on the Polk Penguin Conservation Center. Regrettably, work completed by subcontractors on the Center resulted in leakage requiring repairs.

“The Detroit Zoological Society and the joint venture of DeMaria/Wharton-Smith agreed through mediation to make repairs to correct the issue of water infiltration. The repairs will be performed by the joint venture, mutually agreed upon with the zoo.”

According to the zoo’s website, the $32 million Polk Penguin Conservation Center is a 33,000-square-foot facility that includes a 326,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area. It houses four species of penguins: macaroni, king, gentoo and rockhopper.

The website also states that the Penguinarium will be renovated to be a bat conservation center.

The Detroit Zoo is located at 8450 W. 10 Mile Road, west of Woodward Avenue.

For more information about the Detroit Zoo, visit www.detroitzoo.org or call (248) 541-5717.

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.

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